Plain Bad Heroines Review

A huge thank you to HarperCollins US for sending me an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.

Emily M. Danforth’s PLAIN BAD HEROINES is a dark, eerie horror-comedy surrounding a cursed New-England boarding school for girls – a wickedly whimsical celebration of the art of storytelling, sapphic love, and the rebellious female spirit.

This book is a BEAST. It’s 600+ pages of chaotic gays, hilarious footnotes and a whole load of wasps. Danforth has a knack for making this book feel so real, the setting and descriptive writing in this book make it feel so luxuriously dark and spooky, I couldn’t put it down. This book follows a dual-timeline between 1902 and the present day, where we separately follow a group of women at Brookhants boarding school.

In 1902, we follow Clara and Flo, two girls who become enthralled with a daring young writer named Mary MacLane and form a fan club called the Plain Bad Heroines Society. They hold secret meetings at an orchard, and get other girls at the school to join too. Clara and Flo end up falling in love and later their bodies are found under that same orchard with Mary MacLane’s book splayed out next to them. I thoroughly enjoyed these early chapters where we got an insight into the very early beginnings of the Brookhants curse, where we meet Flo and Clara and learn about them and their love.

We then switch between this time period and the present day, where a film is being made out of Merritt Emmons’ book about Brookhants. We follow Merritt, Audrey and Harper, whose lives get entangled with this film and each other. Harper Harper, where do I start?? I ADORE her, she’s totally brash, open and her personality is just so funny. Harper really is the definition of a disaster lesbian, and I loved getting to know her in this book. Audrey is cast to play Clara, and Harper Flo, so they, along with Merritt, end up spending a lot of time together during the process of pre-filming and the actual filming of the movie. These three together were so adorable to read about; Merritt is very upfront and honest in the way she thinks, and I think her personality bounced off of Harper’s really well.

During the filming of the movie, strange things keep happening to everyone involved – yellow jackets (wasps) turning up in sinks, bathtubs, jackets, they’re literally everywhere. The way Danforth describes the buzzing noise of the yellow jackets really drives home how creepy it is, in fact, I highly recommend not reading this book outside where something may buzz around you, because you will FREAK. The dark and spooky atmosphere is definitely present throughout the whole book, which is really nice because it helps you to fully submerge yourself into it.

Libbie and Alex are the characters we read about after the death of Clara and Flo; Libbie is the headmistress at Brookhants and Alex is her partner. These two really made me giggle at points, their relationship is a bit rocky but their humour with each other is on point. I must admit, as the book went on, I didn’t really feel the chemistry between them that much, but definitely when we flashed back to them as younger adults, their relationship was very sweet.

The footnotes in this book were quite possibly one of my favourite parts, they’re incredibly humorous and I found myself laughing out loud multiple times while reading, I think they’re a very unique and at times very crucial addition to this book. They’re not too long either which is great because they can be annoying to some people, but throughout this book they were not normally longer that 2 or 3 lines. I also loved the addition of the illustrations throughout this book, they were peppered in every couple pages and it really helped to have a visualisation of what was going on and also, they are just incredibly pretty.

Yet another thing I enjoyed about this book was how queer it was. There was maybe 3 straight characters throughout this whole book, and it’s super affirming to the whole “we were always here” and this book just belongs as a piece of queer history. I can’t wait for more people to read this and discover the story because it’s a masterpiece.

The ending of this book brought along quite a few surprises!! I was thrilled about the relationship, which I won’t comment on more to avoid spoilers, but just know that I was rooting for it and I’m SO HAPPY!!

One thing I do wish this book had was more of Flo and Clara and their story. After the first couple chapters, we don’t really read about them at all except for when it’s mentioned during the process of making the film. I think that having more Flo and Clara would have definitely made the book more engaging during the middle where I found it started to drag on a little.

Overall, this book is a perfect read for October and anyone who loves sapphics being sapphics. The illustrations paired with the writing really gives it a spooky feel and I think this would be a great addition to anyone’s October tbr!!

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